Coyote in Afghanistan

A Coyote armoured vehicle on patrol near Kandahar Airfield.


382. Green Armour
by Osmar White
This is an odd little book about the Second World war as fought in the southwest Pacific. It's really three little memoirs written an Australian journalist. I was tricked by the original 1945 introduction being datelined New York and by the use of American spelling into thinking the author was American. His apparent lack of nationalist sentiment in discussing the performance of Australian troops in New Guinea also suggested the sort of impartiality that might be expected from an outsider. But White, by birth a New Zealander, was just trying to be honest. It was his honest opinion that the Japanese were prevented from reaching Port Moresby not so much by the Australian Army but by the jungle. In this book the jungles of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are the real enemy to be defeated. By far the best part of the book recounts White's trek through the jungle to visit a team of Australian commandos operating on the north coast of New Guinea. Modern readers may find White's attitude to the locals as racist, or at least highly patronising, and he is no fan of the Japanese fighting man either. White argues the Japanese were better prepared and trained for jungle warfare than their Australian and American opponents. The book is more memoir than campaign history. But White is good at both conveying his own experiences and those of the soldiers, sailors, and aircrew he interviewed to give a compelling few of the war from the slit trench, foxhole and oozing jungle slime. 

381. Catastrophe
by Max Hastings
Prolific military writer and journalist Max Hastings takes a sombre and sober look at the opening months of the First World War in this heavy tome. He, or his researchers, cast the net wide to find letters, memoirs, articles and diaries of those caught up in one of the great tragedies of European history. Soldiers, politicians, housewives, school teachers and children are all quoted in a tale which spans Europe. Hastings pays more attention than many British writers to the war in the Balkans and the Eastern Front. He appears to have gone out of his way to be honest about the performance of the tiny British Expeditionary Force and the part it played in foiling the German invasion of Belgium and north-eastern France - and it disappointing. Hastings places the blame for the war firmly in court of war mongers in the Vienna and Berlin. I am not sure a completely buy into his argument that the Germans attack on France was doomed to fail. The arguments he makes could almost equally be employed to show Hitler had no chance of winning the Battle of France in 1940. But I do agree that from the British and French point of view that the war had to be fought. The Germans and the Austro-Hungarians did terrible, disgusting, inhumane, things in the the territories they occupied. He also has a go at modern British attitudes to the war and the over-emphasis on the writings of a handful of English poets when it comes to perceptions of the conflict. His point that the British are proud of their part in the Second World War because ordinary people gained something from their suffering, the welfare state, while the aftermath of the First was marked by callous betrayal of their interests is well made. Britain was no paradise for the working man before the war; it was a worse place for them afterwards. Surprisingly for such an experienced journalists, Hastings writing style was just a little stodgy. 

380. Soldier I SAS
by Michael Paul Kennedy
This was one of the first Special Air Service memoirs by a non-officer, and therefore was a bit of a pioneer in the genre. Fortunately, ghost-writer Michael Paul Kennedy, taking time away from his duties as a music critic, avoids much of the war porn and squaddie-speak which all too often mars British rank-and-file memoirs. Apart from a couple of over-purpley patches of prose, Kennedy tells his man's tale well and in a highly readable way. There are a couple of unexpected twists as we follow the SAS career of Soldier I, actually Peter "Snapper" Winner, from Oman and the dramatic Battle at Mirbat in the early 1970s through the Iranian Embassy Siege and in the Falklands. Kennedy adds to the tension by returning the story to a psychiatric unit and a couple of times I got a bit lost as to which hospital Winner was in and why. I got the impression that life might have been easier for everyone if a dopey helicopter pilot hadn't insisted Winner examine the bodies of six of the men killed at Mirbat before airlifting back to base. This is an easy, quick, but rewarding read. 

379. Soldier Sahibs
by Charles Allen
This book is subtitled "The Men Who Made the North-West Frontier" and follows the fortunes of a group of an extraordinary men who often single-handedly extended British power in India. Author Charles Allen is perhaps best known for his Plain Tales from the Raj. Born in India, he knows the country and its peoples well. Sadly, because they did not leave written memoirs behind, Allen was unable highlight the Indians who more than played their part in the Imperial Enterprise; though it's obvious he would have if he could have done so. The book pulls no punches when it comes to the brutality used by this British Band of Brothers but he also points out that many Indians found their rule preferable to that of their own callous and greedy countrymen. Allen takes up his tale at the time of the disastrous British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839, which resulted in the destruction of an entire army. He makes it very clear why the force sent by the British to avenge the loss was known as The Army of Retribution. Allen attempts to build his story around the legendary John Nicholson but despite his efforts, the Ulster man remains an enigma. The story follows British fortunes through the unnecessarily bloody Sikh Wars and the annexation of what is now Pakistan's Frontier Province through to the recapture of rebel capital Delhi during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. The story is bloody and cruel, inspiring and fascinating all at the same time. But a couple of quibbles: the 75th Foot was not a Highland regiment at the time of the Indian Mutiny and may not have even been particularly Scottish in character at that time; Lord Frederick Roberts did not die a natural peaceful death, but from something nasty he picked up while visiting British troops in the opening months of the First World War. If Allen got these things wrong, what else in the book is dubious?  

The Defenceless Border

The Canadian - United States border is said to be the longest undefended frontier in the world. The latest Dorchester Review, Canada's best history magazine, carries an article I wrote about a time when though American invasion seemed highly likely, Scottish troops found themselves with useless rifles in their hands. The article is called Undefended Border

Historic Capture

The September/October edition of History Scotland magazine included a two page article I wrote looking at who really captured a French general in 1808 and why the credit might have been given to another member of the Highland Light Infantry. The official version of General Brennier's capture by the HLI at Vimeiro has gone down in British Army legend, "We are soldiers, Sir, not plunderers",  but what ordinary members of the regiment had to say, or did not say, about the episode paints a less flattering picture of it and its aftermath. As the November/December issue is now available, here is the article The Real Mackay?

Pension Misery Highlighted

The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme. 

Double Bill

The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.

Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?

The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.

Irish Terrorism in Canada

In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known.  Dynamite Dillon

Also see - Dorchester Review

Canadian Interest

The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.


The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot  contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.

Double Spread

It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War

Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –

Neil Wilson Publishing


The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fail to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?

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